The music community was saddened to learn about the death of R&B legend James Mtume today (January 9th).
Mtume Rose to national prominence in 1983 with the #1 hit song “Juicy Fruit.” The song was eventually re-worked by The Notorious B.I.G. for his debut single “Juicy” over ten years later, in 1994. Mtume’s underlying track helped power Biggie’s song, which was named the Greatest Hip-Hop Song of All-Time by a panel of music experts gathered by the BBC.
The Philadelphia bred musician had music in his D.N.A. – Mtume was the biological son of jazz saxophone legend Jimmy Heath of The Heath Brothers.
However, he was raised by his stepfather and jazz pianist, James “Hen Gates” Foreman.
In the mid-1960s, James took on the surname Mtume, which means “Messenger” in Swahili, when he was associated with a Black power organization.
Mtume pursued a music career starting in 1969 with Afrocentric albums like Kawaida and Alekebukan: Land of the Blacks, which featured jazz heavyweights like Herbie Hancock, Don Cherry, and his uncle Albert Heath.
In the early 1970s, he toured extensively with Miles Davis and later Freddy Hubbard and McCoy Tyner until he formed his namesake band in 1972.
Mtume released five albums between 1978 and 1986, but the classic L.P. Juicy Fruit which earned them recognition and eventually sold over 500,000 copies.
As a producer, James Mtume also wrote smash songs for other singers.
His pen churned out hits like “Never Knew Love Like This Before” by Stephanie Mills and “The Closer I Get To You” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway.